story submitted by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
Lion Rifles, the air rifle sport club at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, earned 5th place in the country in the Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championship at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga.
The Lion Rifles team scored a total aggregate of 2162, with two UAFS students shooting personal best scores. The championship is an invitation-only match, where the top 10 intercollegiate clubs and top 30 individuals compete for titles and prizes. This year’s 5th place ranking moved UAFS up from last year’s finish as 10th in the country.
James Vo of Fort Smith and Zach Willhite of Van Buren shot personal bests at the match. Vo earned 4th place with a score of 572, and Willhite took 14th with 550. Vo also earned a place on the NRA First Team All-Stars with a score of 1134, which is an aggregate of his scores from the championship match and the regional qualifying match the team competed in at Texas Christian University in February.
Tom Nguyen of Fort Smith and student coach Matt Teague of Alma were the other two team members competing at the championship. Ken Spillers of Paris, who qualified during the regional match, was unable to shoot due to rule changes since last year’s competition.
Michigan State University, who used to compete on the NCAA level, swept the competition with a 2285 aggregate. Following behind were Pennsylvania State University with 2216, the University of Michigan with 2201 and last year’s winner, Clemson, with 2182.
Staff adviser Jani Kovach of Fort Smith praised the UAFS team.
“This team has done an amazing job this year, and I am proud of each and every one of our members,” she said. “They managed to stay focused and work together, earning compliments from NRA staff and volunteers in a really intense situation where they surely missed the experience of their former coach.”
Former coach Roy Hill left UAFS last fall.
Kovach said local companies played a large part in getting Lion Rifles to the championship, making “generous” and “significant” contributions.
Umarex USA made a cash donation and kept the team supplied with match grade pellets throughout the year. Ocean Impact Dive Shop in Barling also made a year-long donation of a scuba tank and free air fills to keep the rifles running.
“We are excited for the possibility next year holds,” stated Kovach. “We will be losing our most experienced team member, Tom Nguyen, when he graduates this spring, as well as Matt Teague and Ken Spillers when they graduate in December. James Vo and Zach Willhite will continue to lead the team, but we will definitely be looking for new talent.”
Teague will return as the student coach in the fall, but cannot compete after December due to eligibility rules.
This was the third consecutive time for UAFS to be invited to the NRA Intercollegiate Rifle Club Championship, held this year March 13-17.